Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Joseph Cupertino, Religious
September 18, 2014
1 Cor 15:1-11, Ps 118, Lk 7:36-50
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today in the Gospel we encounter one of most beautiful scenes in the life of Jesus, but it is also one of the most important for us to grasp if we wish to love Jesus and to spread love of him. Jesus is welcomed into the home of a leading Pharisee, Simon, who doesn’t welcome Jesus with the three typical gestures with which guests were always greeted, with an embrace on the shoulder, the washing of feet with cold water, and a pinch of incense or smell of roses on the head. Simon, it seems, not only took typical hospitality for granted but took Jesus for granted.
- The sinful woman in the Gospel, however, did not take him for granted. As Jesus lay reclining with the others at the table, she anointed his feet with oil, then washed them with her tears — think about how copious she must have been weeping! — and then dried them with her long hair. Simon’s reaction was that Jesus couldn’t have been a prophet if he didn’t realize this woman was a sinner, but Jesus in fact recognized they both were and drew an important and obvious lesson we shouldn’t miss as he prepared to forgive her sins and send her away in peace: The one who has been forgiven more, loves more. “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” For us to love Jesus much, we need to be forgiven much.
- Pope Francis stresses this point in a book length interview before he became Pope. “For me, feeling oneself a sinner is one of the most beautiful things that can happen, if it leads to its ultimate consequences” the future Pope Francis said in El Jesuita. “When a person becomes conscious that he is a sinner and is saved by Jesus,” Cardinal Bergoglio said, “he proclaims this truth to himself and discovers the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field. He discovers the greatest thing in life: that there is someone who loves him profoundly, who gave his life for him.” Many Catholics have sadly not had this fundamental Christian experience. “There are people who believe the right things, who have received catechesis and accepted the Christian faith in some way, but who do not have the experience of having been saved, … who therefore lack the experience of who they are,” he lamented. “I believe that only we great sinners have this grace.”
- That’s why it’s essential for us to have this experience of our desperate need for Christ’s mercy and for us to come, like the woman in the Gospel, to weep at Jesus’ feet, conscious that, as we prayed in the Psalm, “his mercy endures forever” and that he has done everything he did to forgive us our sins. If we remain aloof, like Simon the Pharisee, we’ll never really understand who Jesus is or who we are. Pope Francis said this morning in his homily in the Vatican, Jesus “only says the word salvation – ‘Your faith has saved you’ – to the woman, who is a sinner. And he says it because she was able to weep for her sins, to confess her sins, to say ‘I am a sinner’, and admit it to herself. … Jesus says this word – ‘You are saved, you are safe – only to those who open their hearts and acknowledge that they are sinners. Salvation only enters our hearts when we open them to the truth of our sins.”
- Someone who was open to this truth was St. Paul. At the end of today’s famous passage in the 15th Chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians, which may be the earliest part of the New Testament, he wrote, “Last of all, as to one born abnormally [the Greek word means “born aborted, dead], he appeared to me. For I am the least of the Apostles, not fit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” He had been saved by the mercy of the Lord and he spent the rest of his life as an ambassador of mercy pleading with everyone in the Lord’s name to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:19-20). He made it his life’s mission. That was the kergyma, the essential proclamation of the Good News, he always shared. He told us at the beginning of today’s Gospel that this is a message of mercy that saves. “I am reminding you, brothers and sisters, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared” to many. He transmitted to others what he considered the most important thing of all, all Christ himself did for the forgiveness of our sins, so that we might know the great love he has for us and rediscover who we are. But that gift itself becomes a task, for us to share that saving word with others, to as St. Paul wrote earlier in this letter, that the love of Christ impels us to share what we ourselves have received and to do as the great priority of our life.
- Today we celebrate the feast of a saint who felt God’s mercy very deeply. St. Joseph Cupertino (1603-1663) is famous mostly because he is the most celebrated and attested levitator in the history of the Church, able even to fly in Churches to grasp onto Jesus in the Crucifix and unable to keep his feet on the ground as he was celebrating Mass. But he was able to fly toward Jesus because of his love, and that love came from the experience of Jesus’ mercy and goodness. He was really quite unintelligent, unable to finish sentences, unable to hold a thought or a job. He wanted to become a Franciscan but he seemed to be so absent minded that they dismissed him. He was able, however, to return as a third order and care for the mule and animals in the shed. He did so with such great gratitude to God and to joy that others started to notice him. They started to come to him to explain their problems with prayer or with life and the advice he gave them in response made many to begin to think that he would make a very good priest. So he was allowed to study for holy orders and received all of the minor orders, but when it was coming time for the diaconate and the priesthood, most thought that there would be no way he would pass the examinations because, try as hard as he could, he just couldn’t learn much. At the diaconal examination, they asked him to comment on the passage, “Beatus venter qui portavit,” and he put his head down. He shamefacedly explained that his Latin was terrible, try as hard as the friars worked to teach him. So they said to him in Italian, thinking that it probably would make no difference at all, “The passage is ‘blessed is the bomb that bore you,” at which point he smiled and began to give basically a doctoral dissertation in response. That was the passage in Sacred Scripture he pondered more than any other because of his devotion to our Lady. The examiners were blown away and he was passed to the Diaconate. When it came time for the even more stringent examination for the priesthood, the first several Franciscans did so well on the exam that the examiners thought they were wasting their time and passed everyone else, including St. Joseph, without testing them. He’s been the patron saint of exam takers ever since! He always grasped that all he had was a result of God’s mercy, and because he had received much, he loved much, he loved like a saint, he loved like God hopes one day we’ll love.
- As we come today to celebrate this Mass, we recognize that all of us, like St. Paul, were in a sense born dead, born outside of grace because of original sin, but God has restored us in baptism and so many times in the “second baptism” of the Sacrament of Confession that restores us to our baptismal graces. We recognize that he has saved us through faith. We recognize we’ve been forgiven not just 500 days wages but far more. We ask him for the grace to love him in correspondence to that unbelievable gift and to spend today, tomorrow and the rest of our life, passing on to others as of the greatest importance of all what we ourselves have received and what God himself wants to give them.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 cor 15:1-11
of the Gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the Apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the Apostles,
not fit to be called an Apostle,
because I persecuted the Church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.
ps 118:1b-2, 16ab-17, 28
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
“The right hand of the LORD is exalted;
the right hand of the LORD has struck with power.”
I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the LORD.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
You are my God, and I give thanks to you;
O my God, I extol you.
R. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
Now there was a sinful woman in the city
who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.
Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,
she stood behind him at his feet weeping
and began to bathe his feet with her tears.
Then she wiped them with her hair,
kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself,
“If this man were a prophet,
he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,
that she is a sinner.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman?
When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet,
but she has bathed them with her tears
and wiped them with her hair.
You did not give me a kiss,
but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.
You did not anoint my head with oil,
but she anointed my feet with ointment.
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven;
hence, she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”